Gotta love all ages shows. Doors open at 6pm, first act at 7, main act at 8-8:30 and out the door by 10pm. Truly an ideal scenario for the working-week event. And this was the setup on last Thursday evening at First Avenue for She & Him, aka Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward.
Johnny Blaze was my concert buddy for the evening and we were both fans of their debut release Volume One. M. Ward is always fantastic but Zooey really stood out as a gifted songwriter and unique vocal presence. But let's be candid here. Zooey is a movie star and based on the surprisingly packed crowd, I have to believe there's an added celebrity-whoring curiosity mixed in with your average She & Him audience. So that added an interesting vibe right from the get-go. No judgment. We were as complicit as the next person.
The night opened up by Becky Stark, alone on stage. Becky is the lead singer from Lavendar Diamond and later we discover her to be Zooey's back-up singer. Best I can tell, she's a eco-obsessed hippy with an operatic, Kate Bush-like voice. Started off a little dull, with the audience noise almost drowning her out. Eventually and just in the nice of time, a new guest musician would join her on stage with each new song until eventually both M. Ward and Zooey Deschanel herself were backing her up on some more flushed out tunes. Turned into a good set by the end. She also had this semi-improvised comedy routine going on as filler between dreadfully depressing songs which made for an entertaining contrast.
Next came the main event. I've read that the pairing of Matt and Zooey had proved to be awkward on stage more often than not, primarily due to some adorable stage fright on the part of Zooey. I could see a little of that. She's surely worked out most of the kinks since SXSW, but there remained a bit of initial hesitance. Once she sat down on the piano and rang off the chorus of "Sentimental Heart" she started to respond to the crowd's enthusiasm, loosened up and appeared to be in her element. M. Ward? He's a rock. Always fantastic. He's the consummate musician and modest as hell. As is his style, he prefers to hang out in the corner, in the shadows and often with his back facing the audience. It's clear he doesn't want the performance to be about him, despite the crowd wooing and cheering every time he comes up to the microphone or lets out a solo from his guitar. He's like a big brother, wanting to help out little sis. He doesn't want to take away any attention, just wants to be there for her. The spotlight is on Zooey and her songs and by the end of the night she earned it with a set including nearly every track from the album. Better yet, I counted three new ones from what I hope will be Volume Two. All in all, a good night. Nothing revelatory but very good. We saw a movie star, listened to some great live music, and best of all I was home by 10:30.